Published Jan 31, 2013In 1994, teenagers Damian Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley were tried and convicted for the murder of three eight-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. The murders were gruesomely linked to Satanism and the trial was sensationalized across the news as the story was scrutinized right up until Baldwin and Misskelley were sentenced to life, and Echols was sentenced to death.
In the 18 years since they were locked in prison, a growing number of people began to have doubts about the evidence gathered by West Memphis police and support began to grow, as many questioned whether the actual killer was still on the loose.
Amy Berg's West of Memphis is an all-encompassing analysis of police and court inequality, chronicling the journey of supporters that dedicated their time to fight for justice, leading to the eventual release of the men dubbed "the West Memphis Three."
This isn't the first time this story has been brought to the big screen, with Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's Paradise Lost trilogy having already garnered notoriety, even earning a nomination for Best Documentary at the 2012 Academy Awards.
Rather than ignore the fact that the story has already been told, Berg makes mention of the previous works, even crediting them for initiating the high profile support of celebrities. Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh became so interested in this case that they injected much-needed financial support for the cause and eventually teamed up with Amy Berg as producers on her film.
Berg doesn't simply rehash the static facts in her documentary, but rather provides a fresh perspective on an important story that impacts more than just a small town in Arkansas, connecting the dots and highlighting an issue that has implications for all Americans.
A fair bit of screen time is spent with Pam Hobbs, mother of one of the victims and ex-wife of the man now viewed as a key suspect, Terry Hobbs. We follow the WM3's path towards their subsequent release from prison, watch as new revelations are uncovered about Hobbs's past and are left dumbfounded that the police never viewed him as a suspect.
While not necessarily unbiased, the evidence alone is damning and the injustice that occurred in West Memphis speaks for itself. It's a shame Berg didn't dig deeper into the missteps made by politicians that made the decisions they did for the sole purpose of career advancement.
Fortunately, with a 150-minute run-time, West of Memphis is jam-packed with engrossing interviews and footage, packing a serious punch even if you're already familiar with the story. (Mongrel Media)